I was taken aback when Duardo told me that Eking had joined the Huks.
In 1948, Duardo, Eking and I were barefoot boys growing up in Bulac-Bulac, Majayjay, Laguna. I was 12 and in Grade 6; Duardo was 13, an errand boy and school dropout; and Eking was 15, another school dropout whose days were spent working as maghahakot using his workhorse during farm harvests.
Before he joined the Huks, I spent two days with Eking when he was hired by Lola Genia to harvest the coconuts on her farm. I helped Eking load unhusked coconuts on the two rattan bakid hitched to the workhorse. The load was brought to the roadside to be picked up by a wholesaler’s truck.
After emptying the load, Eking would let me ride the horse as he guided the animal along the trails of the coconut grove.
Fondness for horses
After a hard day’s work, Eking would give his horse a good bath in Olla River. Eking taught me how to care for a horse: it should be fed with kumpay (freshly cut grass) mixed with water and rice hull. Twice a week, it should be made to drink water mixed with molasses and ipa. The body should be groomed with coconut shell comb and sheltered from the rain in the caballaresa.
My fondness for horses must have been influenced by Eking. I’ve collected dozens of miniature horses from my travels.
On our last day, I invited Eking to our house to give him his maghahakot fee. He refused to enter the house, insisting on waiting by the stairs. “Nakakahiya,” he said while pointing to his bare feet. “Maputik ang paa ko…”
From 1947 to 1950, the Huk rebellion grew in size to around 30,000 armed rebels, gaining popular support among the rural poor. Abusive tenancy practices created violent conflicts between farmers and big landowners in Central and Southern Luzon.
In the war against the Huks, government soldiers committed atrocities, killing civilians suspected of being communist sympathizers. Rural folk, meanwhile, sought redress for their grievances via “Huk justice,” which held mock trials and summary executions.
For warfare training and the indoctrination of recruits into Marxist ideology, Huk training camps were set in Mt. Banahaw in the boundaries of Laguna and Quezon and Mt. Arayat in Pampanga. In Majayjay, many barrio boys joined the Huks, lured by a sense of adventurism and soldiery.
My Lola Genia had anak sa binyag who were Huk members; they would come to the house on Christmas night, with Garand rifles slung on their shoulders.
“Mano po, ninang… Magandang Pasko po!” they would greet lola. She served them hinalo (sticky rice cakes) and cups of hot cocoa drink.
Then they would leave immediately after finishing their food, vanishing like ghosts into the shadowy Christmas evening.
A year after Eking joined the Huks, he came home one night and asked for Duardo and me. We went quickly to his house and he was happy to see us. Eking’s face had become darker; he wore his hair long, down to his shoulders. Beside him was a Garand rifle that, for a moment, scared me. It was an instrument of death, after all.
Eking boasted that he had an anting-anting that could stop bullets from wounding him. The amulet, he said, was called “ang Kristong pinapawis.”
He fished out from his pocket an object wrapped in plastic. It was an antique crucifix depicting a totally naked Christ.
“I say one Ama Namin every night for the anting-anting to be effective,” Eking said. I failed to notice if the crucified Christ was, indeed, sweating, but I hesitated to ask.
Then, Eking remembered something important. He asked if I had a pair of second-hand rubber shoes that I could give him. I noticed that my friend was barefoot as usual.
“My feet hurt during long treks in the mountain,” he said.
I went to the house to get my shoes for Eking.
In 1950, the government took an aggressive strategy to end the Huk rebellion. Former guerilla leader and congressman Ramon Magsaysay, once he became the Secretary of National Defense, worked to reform the military.
With assistance from American military strategists, he also launched combat teams to attack known Huk strongholds. In time, most of the communist hierarchy was captured, resulting in the mass surrender of Huk members.
In Bulac-Bulac, however, the news about Eking horrified me. My shy, barefoot friend was said to have become a berdugo, an executioner of the guilty according to Huk justice.
They said a Huk berdugo did not use a gun to kill his subjects. Instead, he saved on bullets by using a bolo to hack or stab persons to death.
How my shy friend ended up doing such a grisly assignment for the Huk organization boggled my mind. Had Eking been totally brainwashed about the need to eliminate those perceived as enemies of communism? He was a school dropout all his life. I doubted whether Marx’s class struggle was something that his illiterate mind could grasp.
Perhaps Eking acquired a killer instinct when he tasted blood in the many battles he fought. They say that when a warrior is wounded, he is suddenly without fear and will kill his enemy without mercy.
Or, perhaps Eking simply became soulless and sadistic because of the nonstop killings that happened on all sides during that time.
In remembering Eking, I recall with fondness a friend who let me ride his horse and taught me how to care for horses. I remember a shy friend who did not want to come inside our house because his bare feet might dirty up the floor.